Braceface was an animated TV show that was loosely based on the tween years of its creator/producer, Alicia Silverstone. Following 13-year-old Sharon Spitz shortly after she gets braces that are magic? Or like super scienced up? Magnets? They basically spark up constantly with electricity causing her all kinds of issues. Going through the trouble that young people on the brink of high school go through, it is made harder for Sharon as her braces constantly act out and she deals with rival/bully Nina. But thankfully with the help of her best friends, Maria & Connor, sibling support from her two brothers, and the guidance of her mother, Sharon makes it through the complicated life that is being a teen. Learning a few lessons along the way.
Tale as old as time. So how did it stand out? Well, Sharon was kind of a horrible person. A statement that deserves a whole thing on its own, it was made more interesting because episodes got really real, one of them being Season 2’s Grey Matters. The episode where Sharon’s thinks her grandfather may be racist.
So the plot? Sharon’s best friend Maria starts to date this popular Arab boy, Cloud. At the same time, Sharon’s grandfather is visiting. Having not seen him in 3 years, she is excited, but her grandfather’s interactions with both Maria (who is of Chinese and Italian descent) and Cloud (whose real name he explains to be Muhammed) are tinged with subtle prejudices. Like asking if Maria was a part of his harem and asking at what age he gets a camel. A camel he informs Cloud to not lend to Maria as the Chinese cant drive. All of those come back to back by the way.
Let me tell you; it is a whirlwind of emotion watching a children’s show suddenly dish out comments like that. The cringe hits hard even if this is only the beginning of a tale that hopefully has heartfelt lessons learned (Spoiler alert: it kind of does). But it has to grow more uncomfortable first, as Sharon begins to see that Maria‘s boyfriend is perhaps abusive and seems to want to remove all of Maria‘s sense of self/agency.
Now Sharon has to find a way to address that Maria‘s boyfriend is terrible, without seeming prejudice like her grandfather, who she must also confront about some of his jokes.
Children cartoons, am I right?
Well, first Maria doesn’t believe that Cloud is bad, despite noticeably behaving differently due to his “advice”. Second, Sharon‘s grandfather claims he isn’t wrong for his jokes/comments, defending them by explaining that Sharon just doesn’t get other cultures and their nuances.
And then… solutions just kinda happen.
Sharon comes to the personal conclusion that her grandfather isn’t a hateful man, but indeed says unfiltered, hurtful, and yes, sometimes prejudiced things. In a real moment she doesn’t understand where to go from there, but decides that his good outweighs his bad for her (not sure how I feel about that, but it is her journey?). She learns that because of her grandfather’s small-town upbringing, his experience with other people has been limited. But he seems to be willing to give new schools of thought a try. Maria breaks up with Cloud after realizing that indeed, Cloud could be cruel following him insulting her and calling her being tired during track and field training, just her being lazy. Making up with Sharon by apologizing for ignoring her warnings about Cloud (highly sure that burden isnt on Maria given Sharon’s grandfather…), Maria acknowledges that while Cloud was generous and caring at times, his bad outweighed his good.
Braceface was an interesting show, full of all kinds of somewhat real, somewhat out there episode plots that I doubt a children cartoon aimed at the same demographic today, would do. Saying that though. While this episode constantly had my jaw hanging from how far they took the comments of Sharon’s grandfather and the actions of Cloud, its overall message I think is good for conversation. I remember when seeing this as a black middle schooler in the 2000’s, and learning that the world is a lot beyond what I was used to. I enjoyed it, and it helped me realize the world is full of shades of gray, not just black and white.
That occasionally you have to ask, does someone’s bad, outweigh their good?
But what do you think of Sharon and her conclusion?